Crips Co-Founder Nominated for Peace Prize

ByABC News

Nov, 20 -- Stanley “Tookie” Williams is co-founder of one of the nation’s most notorious gangs, and a death-row inmate convicted of killing four people in 1981.

He’s also a nominee for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize.

From his tiny San Quentin cell, Williams leads a campaign to stop children from making the same mistakes he did. He writes gritty children’s books about his experiences as a founder and leader of the street gang, the Crips.

“I never imagined Crips membership would one day spread throughout California,” he writes in an “apology” on his Web site (see Web Link, right). “I also didn’t expect the Crips to end up ruining the lives of so many young people, especially young black men who have hurt other young black men.”

So “Tookie” is seeking atonement — in the form of his anti-gang writings, and his Internet Project for Street Peace, which allows at-risk youths in California and South Africa to share their experiences through e-mail and chat rooms from community centers.

These efforts led to his nomination by a Swiss parliamentarian for the Nobel Prize.

Getting Kids Away From Gangs

“I think he has done extraordinary work,” parliament member Mario Fehr said. “For these young kids that are in these street gangs, I think it is one of the only opportunities to get close to them. To get them out of the street gangs.”

Williams, now 46, and high school buddy Raymond Washington created the Crips in 1971 to fight rival gangs in east Los Angeles. Washington was killed in 1979.

“Tookie,” or “Big Took” to his gang, published the first of eight children’s books in 1996. His latest, Life In Prison, is a gritty look at life in the pokey. In it, he speaks of his 20 years behind bars, the humiliation he has suffered as a prisoner, and how he feels homesick every day.

“It’s very humiliating to have guards watching us closely to make sure none of us is breaking the rules by touching, or being touched, too much,” he writes.

It is targeted at sixth-graders.

A Life Worth Saving?

Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book Dead Man Walking, said Williams is an example of a life worth saving.

“Look what he’s spending his energies doing, saying ‘Look, I made some mistakes... I don’t want you to make the same mistakes,’” she said. “That’s what we all try to do for our children. We try to teach our children, we try to help our children... even through our mistakes.”

Williams says on his Web site that he hopes to reach out to as many young people as possible, and warn them of the perils of gang life.

“I am no longer part of the problem. Thanks to the Almighty, I am no longer sleepwalking through life,” he writes on his Web site. “I pray that one day my apology will be accepted. I also pray that your suffering, caused by gang violence, will soon come to an end as more gang members wake up and stop hurting themselves and others.

“I vow to spend the rest of my life working toward solutions.”

Surprised by Nomination

Williams was surprised by the nomination, said Barbara Becnel, a journalist who edits Williams’ writings. Becnel and Fehr are friends and both oppose the death penalty.

“He was positively stunned,” Becnel said. “He was wide-eyed like a child and really excited and he was also very humbled by it.”

Abdulahi Mohamud, who pushed for the nomination, called Williams “a great man.” Mohamud brought Williams’ Internet Project for Street Peace to Switzerland for Somali youths living there to communicate with their counterparts in California and South Africa.

Crowded Field

The Nobel Peace Prize’s five-member awards committee gives no hints and never releases the names of peace prize nominees, only the number — a record 150 this year. However, those nominating others for the award often divulge their choices in advance.

Members of national assemblies and governments, and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union are among those persons entitled to nominate candidates. The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded on Dec. 10, 2001.

Fehr said Williams’ violent past did not diminish his qualifications for the award. “Everyone can change his life, no matter what mistakes someone has done,” he said.

ABCNEWS affiliate KGO in San Francisco and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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